Charcoal Drawings & Illustrations

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  • Learn More About Charcoal Drawings & Illustrations

    Charcoal drawings are an artistic expression of shading mastery dating back to the Renaissance. As charcoal is solely black and white artwork, the details, shapes, and subtleties come from the artist varying their finger pressure and applying techniques to effectively blend a piece of art into existence.

    Charcoal and graphite both produce stellar black-and-white artwork, but they’re different mediums. When comparing the two, keep an eye out for the following:


    • The dark blacks: Graphite tends to have a shiny quality to it with the deeper blacks, while charcoal achieves darker tones without the sheen. Dark charcoal drawings are easier to take photos of and make scans or print copies, while copying dark graphite may be a trickier process.
    • Erasability: Charcoal erases much easier than graphite, but both have their own advantages. Using charcoal means artists can erase their mistakes as they go, but it’s equally easy to accidentally erase portions of the artwork by mishandling it. Graphite stands up better to handling but leaves less room for error for the artist. Depending on how hard the graphite pencil is pressed into the paper, some mistakes may be erased but still leave visible indents on the page.
    • Details: While it is possible to achieve fine details with both graphite and charcoal, graphite holds a fine point longer, making it easier to achieve highly detailed drawings. Charcoal requires frequent sharpening on a sanding block or excess paper, so finding a highly detailed charcoal pencil drawing is extra special.

    If well-cared for, a charcoal drawing can last for centuries. Here’s how to preserve a charcoal drawing.


    • Use a fixative spray. These matte or glossy sprays are used to keep charcoal dust in place. Apply it in a well-ventilated space and with at least a two-foot separation between the spray and the artwork. Spray in a continuous motion and apply multiple light coatings, allowing time to dry between each coating.
    • Avoid touching the artwork. While it may be tempting to point to the finer details within the work, charcoal smudges easily. The oils on your fingers can accidentally make a tree in your charcoal landscape drawing look like part of the lake.
    • Keep your artwork out of direct sunlight. While charcoal resists fading better than other artwork styles, sunlight mutes the stark contrasts and the fresh look of a finished charcoal drawing.
    • Use a frame. A frame allows you to hang the artwork and protect it from smudges, dust, and tears. Add a framing mount or a mat to separate the frame and the drawing, as charcoal pushed directly against glass or acrylic panes may smear.